Do you want to be a food and wine critic?
Miss Terry Diner
Food & Wine critic
A food and wine critic. How great a life would that be? Eating out at the best
restaurants, drinking expensive wines, and being waited on hand and foot, just
to make sure the review was positive. That is the popular conception, but is it
really like that? Unfortunately no. Not even in Chiang Mai, which has numerous
top class restaurants, as well as some amazing little funky places.
Being a weekly publication, you would imagine that means you get to eat out one
night each week. Again, unfortunately no. Certainly you have to have one column
in the editor’s hands each week, but getting the details for the column may take
more than one week, so you have to be in front of yourself to ensure you are not
printing a blank page some weeks.
There are many reasons there can be a problem. On the appointed day the
restaurant calls to postpone because the chef was knocked off his motorcycle
last night. No restaurateur wants their restaurant to be judged with the junior
chef in charge. This has happened more than once.
Then there is also the situation where the restaurant cancels because they are
going to produce a new menu the following week, so please come in a fortnight’s
The reverse is also true, when a restaurant begs you to somehow squeeze them in,
because they have a new promotion starting next week. This really throws your
schedule out as well.
And finally, there is the situation where as the reviewer, you feel that the
restaurant’s performance was just not up scratch, and you cannot in all fairness
to the readers (and to the restaurant) write a positive review. So you simply do
not write the restaurant up. Damning reviews do nothing other than give the
reviewer an inflated idea of his or her own importance. They do not make people
go to the restaurant to see if it really was ‘that’ bad. Rather than help the
restaurant improve, a negative review kills the restaurant. I do not believe
that a journalist has the right to break anyone’s rice bowl.
So how do we go about doing a review? Firstly, the choice of the restaurant. I
do not like to review one Chinese restaurant, and one week later do another
Chinese restaurant. You have to try and give a reasonable balance between the
various styles of restaurants. Sometimes this can be difficult when two
competing restaurants are both asking for a review this week.
Some publications claim to do reviews incognito. Sneak in, fed and wined, and
back to the garret to pen the report. I do not do this, though I have tried on
occasions, but it is difficult to explain to a maitre d’ just why you are
transcribing the menu into a notebook, and photographing the venue and standing
on a chair to snap the food. It is not long before the owner is at your table
Selecting the dishes for review is also an ‘art’. My dining companion and I
confer to make sure we do not both order the same dish. We will also chose a
main from different sections of the menu, say meat or fish, for example. We will
also go for food priced around the middle of the restaurant’s price range. We
will usually also select the house wine, and do not select expensive bottles of
French champagne. It is not, nor should it be, an opportunity for us to
experience the life of the idle rich (or even ample rich).
During the meal we are constantly evaluating the food, the ambience and the
service. We also try a little of each other’s food, to get an even better feel
for the cuisine.
Afterwards we compare notes and decide whether the restaurant was giving the
diner what could be expected from a restaurant of that caliber. Obviously, a
cheap and cheerful is judged on different standards than a fine dining, silver
The Chiangmai Mail is back, and you can expect authoritative reviews
on just where to eat in this great city.